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Soccer national team members engaged in late-night gambling before Asian Cup: report

March 14, 2024 - 11:15 By Yoon Min-sik
This Feb.15 photo shows civic groups demanding the resignation of then-head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and Korea Football Association chief Chung Mong-gyu in front of the KFA headquarters in Seoul. (Yonhap)

Yet another revelation related to South Korea's ill-fated Asian Cup outing hit the local media Thursday, with reports that some members of the men's national soccer team had played cards for money late at night during the training for the tournament.

According to reports, a few players and one of the staff of the team enjoyed light gambling in January, during the team's training at Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates in preparation for the Asian Cup. The players have not been verified, with reports suggesting it is at least four or five.

The card games supposedly continued well into the next day.

Korea Football Association confirmed the reports, saying that it was "a game of sorts, (but) not exactly gambling." Reports indicate that the stakes were very low, with no player losing more than 50,000 won ($38).

South Korean law prohibits gambling, but the Article 246 of the Criminal Act states that the "gambling for a mere pastime" shall not be punished.

The staff member in question has reportedly been removed from duties, although the KFA said that the move was not directly related to the card game. The KFA is slated to hold further investigation on the matter, after which it will decide on the possible disciplinary actions against the staff.

While the light gambling by the players and the staff member is not likely to receive criminal punishment, the public is decrying the players for what they see as lack of commitment to Asia's top tournament.

The public has sided mostly with the team captain Son Heung-min over his altercation with Lee Kang-in, after it was found that the quarrel occurred when Son took issue with Lee and younger members of the team wanting to play table tennis a night before their semifinal against Jordan.

South Korea went down to Jordan 2-0 in the match, losing yet another opportunity to win an Asian Cup for the first time since 1960.

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was fired after the tournament, with under-23 men's team head coach Hwang Sun-hong taking over as the interim head coach head for the national team's World Cup qualifiers.